Exploring Net Neutrality with Mozilla Webmaker
Karen Louise Smith (University of Toronto) and Doug Belshaw (Mozilla Foundation)
Mozilla was founded in 1998 to ensure everyone “can be informed contributors and creators of the open web” (Mozilla, n.d) through global collaboration. This work is critical, because the open web is a platform where civic participation unfolds. Scholars such as Jenkins et al. (2009) note the importance of creative expression and sharing as components of participatory culture. To teach the web globally, Mozilla created the site Webmaker, which houses tools, resources, and a community (see figure 1.1).
This case study briefly introduces Mozilla’s approach to web literacy and the Webmaker tools to examine how it functions as a platform for civic media. Next, it explores how Webmaker is promoted globally, and in particular, how it was leveraged in the summer of 2014 to encourage learning and web content production about net neutrality. This issue was pressing in 2014 because in January, the Federal Communications Commission’s (FCC) Open Internet Order was struck down in a US court of appeals. Mozilla ran a traditional campaign to collect signatures to petition Congress to protect net neutrality (Mozilla, 2014). Simultaneously, there were significant opportunities to produce civic media on net neutrality with Webmaker through global remixes and localizations.
Web literacy and Webmaker
Mozilla understands web literacy as the skills and competencies required to “read, write and participate effectively on the web” (MozillaWiki, n.d.). As an open source and localizable project, Webmaker facilitates the development of web literacy skills with developers but also with everyday Internet users around the world. Underpinning the Webmaker site is the web literacy map, developed by the Mozilla community through a participatory process (see figure 1.2). Infrastructure, remix and open practices are some of the competencies on the web literacy map that are applicable to this case study and to teaching net neutrality.
Zittrain describes that net neutrality involves “rout[ing] packets without regard to what they contain or where they are from” (p. 178). However, understanding how the open internet works in terms of the pipes and packets, may not necessarily be engaging or interesting for the average internet user. Using Webmaker tools, production-based projects, such as poster and video remixes were designed for learners to explore the inner workings of net neutrality more creatively.
Webmaker houses four browser-based tools to explicitly encourage users to produce and remix the web. For example, “X-Ray Goggles” allows a user to view a website and alter a small snippet of code to remix a page. “Popcorn” affords for the easy mashup of video and other audiovisual web assets. Since the Webmaker tools do not stand alone to raise awareness about net neutrality, a Webmaker online training course was launched on August 4th with content explaining net neutrality, as well as discussion threads for online participation. The training provided links to the Net Neutrality Teaching Kit produced by Mozilla, housed on the Webmaker site. In addition to the training and the teaching kit, the Maker Party campaign encouraged the use of Webmaker in tandem with exploring net neutrality.
Open Educational Resources for Maker Parties
The Net Neutrality Teaching Kit was produced as an open educational resource (OER), made available during the Maker Party 2014. This kit in use at Maker Parties globally, demonstrates key aspects of Webmaker’s potential as a form of civic media that involves both people and technologies. Maker Party is Mozilla’s annual campaign to teach the web through interactive events of all sizes. In 2013, 58,005 people attended 1694 events globally, where they used Webmaker to create 50,616 projects (Mozilla, 2013). Integrating the net neutrality theme into projects as an option for event organizers seeking programming ideas was encouraged at Summer 2014 Maker Parties.
A key design attribute of Webmaker for civic media usage is Remix. The Webmaker site features starter projects as well as teaching kits with a remix button to allow users to adapt existing site content, by altering code and publishing their own version. One strong example of a remixable net neutrality learning activity was “Explain Net Neutrality to ______!” This activity challenges users to use Popcorn to remix a net neutrality video to effectively explain the concept to someone, which could include their uncle, a group of 12 year olds, or policy makers in their country of citizenship (Braybrooke, n.d.). The localization possibilities offered through this type of remix within Webmaker, demonstrates another key element of Webmaker as civic media.
Localization “is the process of adapting, translating and customizing a product (software) for a specific market…” (Souphavanh and Karoonboonyanan, 2005, p. 1). Localization can include content that is remixed by users to make it culturally relevant beyond the US. Global citizens and US were responding to the strike down of the FCC’s Open Internet Order, amidst other global developments. In 2014, the European Union discussed draft legislation for net neutrality and Brazil passed an Internet Bill of Rights, with provisions for net neutrality. Mozilla expects and encourages a mosaic of projects to emerge regarding net neutrality that engage with different political contexts and lived experiences.
Webmaker is positioned for the localization of content specific to net neutrality, but as an open source project, it remains a powerful contribution to civic media that the entire site can be localized for many linguistic communities.
Webmaker was originally made available in English but the website, including the tools, are now available in 23 localized versions (i.e., in Spanish or the Thai language). Localization of Webmaker was completed by volunteers through a website called Transifex and 93 localizations are currently underway. The possibility to localize teaching kits, projects, and the Webmaker site itself for linguistic and cultural contexts, expands the likelihood that communities can express themselves on net neutrality or other issues.
Advocating for the continued openness and accessibility of the internet is central to Mozilla’s mission (Mozilla, n.d.). Net neutrality is a policy issue, which connects to Mozilla’s mission and was woven into Webmaker in the summer of 2014 through web literacy competencies- including remix and open practices. The net neutrality resources were made globally relevant by the localized versions of the Webmaker site and Maker Party events around the world. As an open source project, the code of Webmaker can customized for other initiatives, beyond net neutrality. Webmaker will continue to teach web literacy globally so empowered individuals can produce the web and participate in its future more fully.
Braybrooke, Kat. n.d. Explain Net Neutrality to _______! Webmaker Net Neutrality Teaching Kit. https://keyboardkat.makes.org/thimble/MTkyOTk2OTkyMA==/ explain-net-neutrality-to-blank (accessed 06 August 2014).
Jenkins, Henry, et al. 2009. Confronting the Challenges of Participatory Culture: Media Education for the 21st Century. The John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation Reports on Digital Media and Learning. Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press. http://mitpress.mit.edu/sites/default/files/titles/free_download/9780262513623_Confronting_the_Challenges.pdf (accessed 06 August 2014).
Mozilla. n.d. Mission https://www.mozilla.org/en-US/mission/ (accessed 06 August 2014).
Mozilla. 2013. Maker Party by the Numbers. Webmaker Blog. https://blog.webmaker.org/maker-party-by-the-numbers (accessed 06 August 2014).
Mozilla. 2014. Join Mozilla for global teach-ins on Net Neutrality. Webmaker Blog. https://blog.webmaker.org/join-mozilla-for-global-teach-ins-on-net-neutrality (accessed 06 August 2014).
MozillaWiki. n.d. Webmaker/Web Literacy Map. Mozilla Wiki. https://wiki.mozilla.org/Webmaker/WebLiteracyMap (accessed 06 August 2014).
Souphavanh, Anousak and Karoonboonyanan, Theppitak. (2005). Free/open source software localization. New Delhi: United Nations Development Program Asia-Pacific and Elsevier. http://akgul.bilkent.edu.tr/iosn/foss-l10n.pdf (accessed 06 August 2014).
Zittrain, Jonathan. 2008. The Future of the Internet: And How to Stop It. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press.
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